64. Intimate Relationships
Love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery (French writer and aviator)
Two types of intimate relationships will be discussed here: passionate love and compassionate love. Even though some authors use different terms, they are all in agreement that there is a qualitative difference between an intense but usually short-term burst of passion, and the love that is associated with a long-term relationship. Many relationships fail because those involved do not understand the difference or do not know how to make the transition – which is what we will focus on in this area.
Passionate love is an intense desire for union with the other person. Its purpose is to break barriers and reduce the anxiety of being close to a practical stranger. It is characterised by moments of exultation, excitement, feeling accepted and safe, and even a sense of unity and transcendence. The common view is that its occurrence cannot be controlled (hence, falling in love). In fact, there are a number of factors that can contribute to and fuel passionate love: novelty; intense positive or negative experiences (e.g. having an adventure or going through some difficulties with another person); fantasies (that can be fuelled by delayed or denied gratification). The most common trigger for passionate love though is identifying somebody with the fulfilment of one’s own needs and desires. In other words, projecting one’s ideal onto the other. This is enforced by glossing over anything that doesn’t fit that ideal. And yet, nobody is perfect – sooner or later, reality kicks in and inevitable differences between the real person and the ideal cannot be ignored any more. This (coupled with excitement naturally subsiding) is why passionate love is usually temporary. When we refuse to acknowledge these differences, passionate love becomes infatuation. It may lead to an attempt to force the other to adjust to one’s ideal, which usually ends in either disappointment or rejection. Let’s turn now to dealing with the latter.